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Fact Table:

Location Central
High point 12095 ft
Max Grade 7%
Arv Rt Grade 4.2%
Dist to High pt 19 mi
Elev Gain 4200 ft
Rating Difficult
Access City Aspen

 

Location Central
High point 12095 ft
Max Grade 6.5%
Arv Rt Grade 2.8%
Dist to High pt 20 mi
Elev Gain 3000 ft
Rating Moderate
Access City Twin Lakes

 

Ride Tips:

  • Be careful through the Narrows. This is not a place to stop and admire the views. The lane is, well, narrow, and it's easy to block traffic.
  • This is a high altitude climb, watch for altitude sickness.
  • It can and does snow year round. Be prepared for cold and quickly changing weather.
  • The last time out, I found the Aspen side roads to be in terrible shape. Not bad at all for climbing, but dangerous for downhill speed.
  • No services outside of Aspen. Twin Lakes is very limited, though there is a general store. Carry extra food and water.
  • Pass typically closes for winter.

 

PassIndependence Pass
Narrow RoadsNarrow roads at the "Narrows" on the Aspen side
Twin LakesTwin Lakes starting point
TopTop of Independence pass
ApproachApproach to pass on Twin Lakes side
Back to TwinLooking back on the Twin Lakes side
Below passLooking back on the Aspen side
Twin sideLong ride up from Twin Lakes
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Independence Pass Summary

Independence Pass has got to be one of the best climbs in Colorado.  It’s the 4th highest paved road in the state and it travels through spectacular scenery.  West to east, Aspen to Twin Lakes is significantly more difficult than east to west.  From Aspen, it’s a 4,200 foot, 19 mile climb to the summit followed by a 3,000 foot, 20  mile descent to Twin Lakes.  Road grades max out just shy of 7% west to east and just over 6.5% on the east side.  The biggest challenge on the west side, besides the climb, is the narrow, rough, and shoulderless road.

Out of Aspen, the steepest climbing is at the base, and then again at the summit, which is great, because some of the best scenery and the narrowest roads are mid-mountain and you can actually enjoy the scenery instead of blowing up a lung or leg.  The first four miles to the Difficult campground is a breeze.  Slightly rolling and heading south, you’re following the Roaring Fork River and are not facing much of a climb at all.  However, once you get to the campground, the fun starts.  Miles four to eight will be in the 5% to 7% range.  Miles eight to about 10.5 will be in the 5% to 6% range.  Then, from miles 10.5 to about mile 16, you relax in great scenery and grades only in the 4% range.  After that, the three miles to the top are killers with grades over 7.5%. 

The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area is to your right and, to your left, is the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness area.  You are alternately in thick forests, wide open on roads carved out of the rock, or following roaring rivers in deep canyons.  This is an area of astounding scenery.  Two areas to note are the Grottos, at about 9750 ft. (there is a parking area in this scenic spot and it is a good rest stop) or a place called the Narrows. Where both are beautiful area, the Narrows is the place for you to keep focused on the roads.  At times, the road through the Narrows don’t seem able to support two way traffic.  More than one car has lost a mirror to an on-coming vehicle.  There are no shoulders and no guard rails here.  The first step off to your right is a doosey.  Drivers get frustrated with both other cars and cyclists here as they are unable to pass and they could tend toward the obnoxious side.  If you can safely move to the right, let them pass.  If you can’t, take the middle of the lane and stand your ground until it is safe for you to move over.  This is not a place to stop for pictures and hope you don’t get a flat.  While the scenery over your right shoulder is nothing short of spectacular, keep your eye on the road and just concentrate on making it through the blind curves and narrow roads as safely as possible.  The good news is the worst part is less than a mile long.

At mile 16.5, you are passing the remnants of a ghost town to your right, with a beautiful valley.  It’s here your final climbing starts and it will be a long hard climb.  With grades at 7.5% and given you are over 11000 feet, the air is thin and cold.  Ahead, you see the ramp that will carry you over the top.  The road gets steep here for the next mile as you gain some significant altitude.  Just grind it out in your low gear, it’s not that long.  Once you make it over the face, you’ve done it and you’re at the top of the world.  The summit has a parking lot and restroom.  Enjoy the unobstructed views below you… You’ve earned them.

The East approach to the summit is less fascinating and less traveled.  The first 12 miles out of Twin Lakes gives you a forested ride through meadows and high forest.  The climb grades are moderate at most and provide for a very very nice ride.  The real climbing does not start until you are 12.5 miles out of Twin Lakes.  Once there, you know you are going up.  Also, you should be able to see your first major ramp of the climb carved out of the hillside.  Starting just past mile 15, you hit the ramp and get some of the steepest climbing of this face.  The grades approach 7%.  You have a total of three switchbacks on this climb and reach the summit just past mile 19.  You will be treated to a couple of false summits as you climb.  However, the final two miles are spectacular as you are well above timberline and trekking across alpine tundra and even a few snow fields.  The climb here is slow and goes through a couple of very steep curves.  If you are heading down this side, you’ll need to check your speed to keep a good line.

For downhill adventure, the Twin Lakes side is better for speed.  There are a couple of switchbacks near the summit that should slow you down, but after those, it’s no holds barred.  The Aspen side is too congested and too narrow for foolish speed.  I once went down this side at 45-50 MPH in the rain and admit it was one of the stupidest things I have ever done.  Rather than speeding, enjoy the views.  Being a hood ornament on a Winnebago isn’t worth it.

Alternate Routes

There’s really only one way in and out of Aspen and any alternate to the pass climb would be extending the ride the ride down to Glenwood Springs or out to Leadville on the other side.  Neither of these are particularly special, but they do set you up additional rides (e.g. over Fremont Pass or through spectacular Glenwood Canyon. 

However, if you are in Aspen, there is a must do ride:  Maroon Bells.  This is an 11 mile one-way moderate climb to one of the most photographed spots in North America.  It will cost you a small fee to access Maroon Creek Road, but you will be car fee.  You will be passed by a few busses bringing in the tourists, but your efforts will be rewarded by stunning views.  Better yet, the return to Aspen is all downhill and very fast.  If you miss this, you really are missing two of Colorado’s most spectacular 14’ers.